Get to Know IREC’s Regulatory Team
In the final installment of our team features series, which highlights IREC’s staff and programs following the official merger with The Solar Foundation, we are excited to introduce the Regulatory Engagement program! We talked to the team to discuss the focus of their work, current projects, what they like best about what they do, and why they’re excited about the recent merger. Get to know the programs’ initiatives and team members, with facts, faces, and Q&A below!
Meet the Team
- Radina Valova | Vice President – Regulatory Program
- Mari Hernandez | Assistant Director – Regulatory Program
- Brian Lydic | Chief Regulatory Engineer
- Midhat Mafazy | Regulatory Program Engineer
- Sky Stanfield | Partner at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP
- Yochi Zakai | Attorney at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP
- Laura Beaton | Attorney at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP
IREC’s Regulatory team participates in regulatory proceedings across the United States to build consensus-based, viable solutions that enable more clean energy and streamline the process of connecting it to the grid. IREC coordinates with diverse local and regional stakeholders and provides independent, fact-based policy leadership informed by our multi-state engagement and national perspective.
The Regulatory team develops national thought leadership and foundational resources on critical clean energy policy topics, such as energy storage, integrated distribution planning, and low- to moderate-income customer access to clean and affordable energy. IREC’s resources include model rules and best practices guidelines, such as for interconnection and shared renewables.
The Regulatory team also partners with other organizations and the U.S. Department of Energy, through initiatives like Building a Technically Reliable Interconnection Evolution for Storage (BATRIES), to provide technical support and guidance that informs efforts to advance solar, storage, and other clean energy technologies.
Across its work, IREC’s Regulatory Team has a particular focus on distributed energy resources (DERs), locally-sited systems that generate renewable energy where it is used—such as rooftop solar and battery storage systems.
Learn more about IREC’s core regulatory issues:
- Connecting to the Grid
- Grid Modernization
- Smart Inverters
- Energy Storage
- Clean Energy Technical Standards
- Shared Renewables
Q&A With the Team
In your own words, tell us about the focus of the Regulatory team’s work. Why is it so important to the growth of clean energy?
Radina: Effective interconnection procedures and grid modernization tools are essential to achieving a 100% clean energy future. IREC’s Regulatory Program works on a number of the key technical, policy, and regulatory components necessary for a clean, distributed, and affordable grid.
These include technical standards to enable better DER communications, control, and grid services; transparent grid data access to enable optimal DER siting; and improving interconnection processes to enable the rapid and efficient interconnection of large amounts of DERs and the electrification on the grid. By working at both a broad policy level and a granular, technical and regulatory level, IREC’s Regulatory Team is building the foundation for a clean energy economy.
Sky: IREC’s Regulatory team has a laser focus on one particularly important part of a clean distributed energy future: getting DERs interconnected to the grid in a timely and cost efficient manner that enables them to offer a full suite of services to customers and the grid.
This work essentially falls into two core areas. The first of which is an area few other organizations focus on: ensuring that interconnection rules, and the supporting codes and standards, are designed to appropriately review the potential impact and benefits of DERs. We work to ensure that these processes are fair, innovative and cost effective for DERs while also ensuring a safe, reliable, and resilient grid. It is clear, however, that to achieve these goals for interconnection that bigger and more forward-looking changes also need to be made to the way the distribution grid is designed and planned for, such that DERs are considered an integral part of the grid.
To this end, we participate in a variety of grid modernization proceedings to help transform the way in which we plan for DER integration. This includes developing grid transparency tools, promoting efforts to proactively upgrade the grid to accommodate DERs, and examining how to transform utility incentives for DER integration.
What are the most important things the team is currently working on? What’s coming up?
Improving the Process of Connecting Renewables to the Grid
Radina: It will be extremely challenging for states to achieve their energy and climate goals, particularly those with aggressive mid-century targets, if integrating DERs onto the grid continues to involve lengthy and expensive processes. One of the biggest challenges IREC’s Regulatory Team is working on at the moment is how to move away from the current interconnection process—in which a single DER interconnection application is processed at a time and in which customers often have to pay high upgrade fees—to a more cost-effective and less burdensome process that benefits DER customers, ratepayers, and utilities.
This transition requires that we pay attention to every little detail, from the procedural rules to technical standards, and develop solutions that address each state’s unique needs and characteristics.
New Models for Sharing the Cost of Grid Upgrades
Laura: One issue that comes up repeatedly in interconnection of DERs is that costs to interconnect sometimes become a barrier to more renewable energy development. In states that have historically had high penetration of DERs, we’re now seeing that the grid needs to be upgraded to be able to accommodate future DERs, but often no one project can bear the cost of those upgrades. Without a way to share costs, clean energy development can just stop. We’re working in a number of states right now to develop innovative approaches to cost-sharing, to facilitate fair allocation of upgrade costs and avoid backlogs when costs would otherwise be unaffordable for a single solar project.
Improving Energy Storage Interconnection
Sky: The regulatory team is currently putting a lot of effort into ensuring that the interconnection process is not a barrier to the full utilization of energy storage’s important capabilities. This work requires challenging utilities to think differently about both how DERs operate and the technologies that are used to ensure their performance. Without these changes, the enormous benefits of energy storage’s controllable nature will not be realized and the grid will have to be upgraded unnecessarily.
Mari: Our DOE-funded project Building A Technically Reliable Interconnection Evolution for Storage (BATRIES) is giving us the opportunity to work with a group of other partners and experts to address these cutting-edge issues related to the interconnection of energy storage. Our goal is to provide a Toolkit of resources that states can use to update their interconnection rules and processes to realize the full benefits and capabilities that storage can provide.
Midhat: The team is leading a DOE-funded project and collaborating with other organizations to help solve challenges with Energy Storage (Batteries) Interconnections. We are working across teams and partner organizations to create an Energy Storage Interconnection Toolkit that will help guide and streamline energy storage technology interconnection. When completed, this Toolkit will provide energy storage guidance on Interconnection applications, reviews/screens, and ways to streamline integrating standalone energy storage and/or energy storage plus solar PV into the grid.
Increasing Grid Transparency
Sky: We are also focusing a lot on how to improve transparency into the distribution grid’s capabilities and constraints in order to enable DERs to both offer services to the grid where, and when, they are most needed, and to avoid costly upgrades through smart system design. Together this work will enable states to transition to both a clean distribution system, but also help transform the building and transportation sectors.
What is something you want people to know about the Regulatory team?
Mari: We see our role as that of a collaborative leader, working with regulators, utilities, and DER advocates to advance innovative and forward-thinking policies that enable the rapid integration of DERs. Our leadership on interconnection builds off of over a decade of experience working in more than 35 states and continues to evolve as DER penetration grows.
Yochi: Our team works hard to get the technical details right. We’re often explaining complex technical topics in plain English to regulators and drafting the technical guidance that accompanies interconnection procedures. No matter what we’re doing, we sweat the details so that renewable energy can safely power the grid.
Radina: The Regulatory Team is truly a team—we live all across the country, from coast to coast (and some of us have never met in person!), and we come together with diverse perspectives and skill sets, from policy to engineering to regulatory, to create ideas and solutions.
Sky: There are a couple of things that really make IREC’s regulatory team unique. The first is the combined technical and legal/policy expertise that we bring to proceedings. When we intervene or provide technical support to regulators and advocates we are able to bridge the gap between policy choices and technical choices. Often those are viewed in silos where, in reality, each technical decision has underlying policy and legal implications, and vice versa. IREC’s engineers, policy experts, and lawyers work together hand-in-hand in all venues.
The other thing that distinguishes IREC’s work is our wealth of knowledge about different state practices. By participating in interconnection and grid modernization conversations in multiple states we are able to keep track of both the types of challenges that arise and also the different ways that states have sought to address those challenges. While parties often perceive their challenges as unique, in reality there are consistent hurdles that emerge as the DER market grows and it helps states to be able to learn from what others have experienced and the solutions that have been tried.
Laura: That we love what we do! Part of what helps us be successful is we chose this work because we’re passionate about it. Every person on the team has a personal passion for achieving a clean energy future, and that fuels our creative thinking and determination to achieve successful solutions.
What excites you about the recent merger with The Solar Foundation?
Mari: I’m excited about joining forces with The Solar Foundation team to complement and further add to our clean energy expertise. Their foundational research and work to advance solar in local communities will significantly expand our impact and support our vision of a 100 percent clean energy future.
Radina: Likewise, I am especially excited at the opportunities for collaboration between the Regulatory Team and The Solar Foundation’s Local Initiatives programs. It will be exciting to explore the ways in which local action impacts state policy and vice-versa.
What is your favorite part about the work you do?
Laura: I appreciate knowing that my work is contributing each day to finding solutions to our climate crisis. It’s not easy, and we don’t always get the perfect outcome, but I know that our work is contributing to a better world for everyone, with every policy change we get that favors more clean energy.
Brian: I love being able to collaborate with external stakeholders to create a vision of how distributed solar and storage will evolve, especially in the context of interconnection.Often,, we are able to find common ground and move forward. Our work bridges the technical and process sides of interconnection, and when we dive into the details we have to convince engineers, lawyers, judges, and commissioners on the best path forward. After all the hard (sometimes slogging) work, it’s great to look back on improvements to interconnection that you know you played a significant role in creating.
Yochi: Being a stalwart advocate for renewable energy. I also enjoy working across multiple states on similar issues. When we learn that something works (or doesn’t) in one state, we can apply that lesson to the work we do in another. And then, after we’ve addressed similar issues in multiple states, we can develop a set of best practices, as we do with our model interconnection rules.
Mari: I love working on policies that can directly impact DER customers and ultimately increase the adoption of clean energy.
Midhat: Three things stick out for me: (1) Ability to work remotely/virtually. (2) Collaboration across teams with various backgrounds and experience levels. (3) Partnership with external organizations.
Radina: I love that every day is different, with a continuous stream of new opportunities for strategic thinking and visioning the future of clean energy.
Sky: I particularly enjoy the process of working closely with a wide range of stakeholders to develop new solutions to DER integration. I particularly like proceedings where parties have an opportunity to work together to develop innovative solutions to new challenges. These collaborative environments do not always exist, but when the politics and procedures allow for it we can really advance clean energy in a manner that minimizes conflict and results in a better process for both customers and utilities.